We settle in quickly to our campsite in San Elijo State Beach and begin a routine of school in the morning and beach in the afternoon. Before we know it, the weekend has arrived and we decide to drive the toad into L.A. to make the most of our southern California stay.
On our way, we stop in San Clemente to visit a former student who has opened her own bakery in a cute little plaza (which also happens to have a Dr. Who phone booth that Elian deems worthy of checking out). The bakery is adorably decorated with a display of croissants, scones and cookies (including the brilliant “can’t decide” cookie, which is a mix of several favorites). We leave impressed and grateful to be holding a pink cardboard box full of treats (thank you, Stefanie)!
We arrive in LA and are immediately overwhelmed by traffic and our GPS, which keeps redirecting but always shows everything to be 40 minutes away. Eventually, we get to Hollywood to walk among the stars.
The only live star we meet is Jumpin Jaxn, a 2 lb Poodle Chihuahua mix who, according to his owner, has appeared in several commercials and films.
We move on to the La Brea Tar Pits, which we are surprised to learn are still active. Occasionally these pits, which look and smell exactly like you’d expect a tar pit would, trap little animals and birds just as they did the great mammoths, saber tooths and giant sloths of long ago. We are skilled tourists by now, so we quickly figure out where to walk to see everything we can without paying to go into the museum. Instead, we stroll around the outdoor pit exhibits, down by the art museum and out to the row of food trucks, where the kids sample flash frozen ice cream. The truck boasts that it’s “the ice cream of the future” but we are skeptical since it just seems like ice cream (and we are old enough to remember that Dippin’ Dots said the same thing in the ’90s). The kids love it anyway but we drag them away without buying any more.
Next, we head to the Getty, a massive and beautifully designed building that sits so high on a hill you can see all of LA and beyond. We spend hours exploring the outside gardens and visiting the Japanese photography and Art of Sugar exhibits inside.
The Getty is our LA highlight, topped only by seeing family that evening. One of the nicest parts of this trip is getting to spend time with folks who we love but rarely see (thanks, Bill and Kathy). The next morning, we take a stroll along Venice Beach, stopping to watch (and tip) the performers and eat a leisurely lunch before heading back to San Diego.
But we’re not really in San Diego, here in Encinitas. Our beach campground is north of the city and right smack on some of the most expensive real estate in the country, maybe the world. Each night the sunsets are like the poster for Endless Summer, splashes of fire-red predicting yet another perfect sunny Southern California day. It looks and feels like a movie set.
But it doesn’t feel real, and it is dripping with privilege. Across the highway, the streets are lined with boutique stores, yoga studios, a Patagonia store, a Thai spa and an upscale market that has everything you ever wanted but can’t afford. Inside, the shoppers seem to be a mix of wealth management consultants ordering tri-tip sandwiches and sushi trays for lunch and sunburned surfers eating burritos in between sets. Outside, old VW vans park next to slick new Ferraris. We imagine that it is the surfers driving those vans (they have that Spicoli “surf, jam and live in a van” kind of vibe) and that the employees of this plaza must take the bus, probably over the hills to some inland community where regular people live, where not everyone is blonder than blond.
We feel more at home back at the campground, where life is a little grimier. The place is busy with surfer traffic and loud from the trains and the 101 traffic, which is more endless than any summer. And there are ants, a not-so-happy fact we learn when we return from LA to find a steady stream of them marching up and into and all over the Woodebago. We sweep and wipe. We smush and step. We spread concoctions of baking soda, cinnamon, Pine Sol, whatever we can find, to deter them. We build barriers to redirect them. We attempt to destroy them but we are simply outnumbered. Worse, we soon realize, they are more determined and hard working than we will ever be. In the end, we surrender our site to them and move down from site #128 to #66. We’ve come to grips with losing the great ant battle of San Elijo, and our new site is at a dead end, which reminds us of home and gives the kids more space to roam about and meet dogs (and occasionally humans).
In a few days, we move an hour south to another state beach campground, Silver Strand, and then to Redlands where we will spend Christmas holidays with more family (the kids are now convinced they have cousins, aunts, uncles everywhere!). Maybe there, with space and time to talk to other adults, we will feel more in touch since right now we feel far away, not just from our home, but from the reality of the world. Our news is limited to the occasional print newspaper, which we get when the boxes aren’t empty (often they are; maybe they don’t stock them? or maybe people really do still love paper newspapers), or what limited news we read on our phones. We talk to the kids about Syria, Trump, guns but it’s hard to know how much to say and often the conversations veer off into some semi-related topic – like ants (which really are amazing creatures).